Politics & Government

Immigration bill would cost state $40 million a year

The state Senate Republicans' immigration bill would cost Kentucky a net $40 million a year in court, prison and foster-care costs, according to a fiscal-impact statement issued Thursday by legislative staff.

Senate Bill 6 would make it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to set foot in Kentucky, and it would authorize police to approach people and ask about their immigration status. The Senate voted 24-14 last week to pass the bill without knowing its cost.

"It does look like serious money," Sen. John Schickel, the bill's sponsor, said Thursday.

"But these are estimates, and quite frankly, I don't agree with these estimates," said Schickel, R-Union. "For one thing, this assumes that law enforcement is going to enforce it to the maximum everywhere, and the bill leaves it open to each jurisdiction's individual discretion."

Also, Schickel said, as Kentucky gets a reputation for being less friendly to illegal immigrants, fewer of them will come here, and the full costs of the bill won't need to be repeated every year.

The bill is now in the hands of the House, where Democratic majority leaders have expressed skepticism about its future. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, declined to comment Thursday.

In the fiscal-impact statement, legislative aides said no one knows how many illegal immigrants live in Kentucky or how many would be arrested under the proposed law, so rough estimates were necessary.

"It should be noted that the official conclusion is that the fiscal impact of SB 6 is 'indeterminable,' and the cost/savings calculations are for illustrative purposes only," the aides said.

The Pew Hispanic Center's best estimate on Kentucky's illegal immigrant population is 50,000, the aides said. For the purpose of the cost estimate, the aides assumed that one-third of the men and one-fourth of the women now here illegally could be convicted under the law. Those jailed could serve an average of 60 days at a cost of $33 a day.

Overall, Kentucky could face $90 million a year in new costs for local jails, state prisons, the foster-care system (for the children of jailed parents), the Administrative Office of the Courts and public defenders, the aides said.

This sum does not include additional police costs or lost revenue from the approximately two-thirds of illegal immigrants in the work force, many of whom pay sales and income taxes, the aides said.

Against that, Kentucky could save $50 million a year in education costs as illegal immigrants' children are deported or otherwise leave with their families and in reduced services through Medicaid and local health departments, the aides said.

The net cost to Kentucky would be $40 million.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who is running for governor, made the immigration bill part of a package of Republican-backed legislation he muscled through the Senate last week. Williams was traveling Thursday and could not immediately be reached for comment, a spokeswoman said.

Separately Thursday, a non-partisan group in Washington, D.C., issued a brief report estimating that illegal immigrants comprise 1.3 percent of Kentucky's work force.

If all illegal immigrants were removed, the state would lose $1.7 billion in economic activity, $756.8 million in gross state product and 12,059 jobs, according to the non-profit Immigration Policy Center. In a statement accompanying its report, the center opposed SB6 and an earlier, similar Arizona measure now tied up in the federal appellate courts.

"As Kentucky faces a $780 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2011, state legislators are currently pursuing a costly and short-sighted 'papers please' law," the center said in its statement. "Senate Bill 6 is a copycat of Arizona's SB1070. ... Kentucky should consider the following evidence before continuing to pursue this kind of immigration legislation."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader